Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Soaring carbon, water woes, nukes


We begin with a diagnosis from the Guardian:

Record CO2 emissions ‘committing world to dangerous climate change’

  • Global greenhouse gas emissions on course to reach record high of over 40bn tonnes in 2014, study in Nature Geoscience says

Children born today will see the world committed to dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change by their young adulthood at current rates, as the world poured a record amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere this year.

Annual carbon dioxide emissions showed a strong rise of 2.5% on 2013 levels, putting the total emitted this year on track for 40bn tonnes. That means the global ‘carbon budget’, calculated as the total governments can afford to emit without pushing temperatures higher than 2C above pre-industrial levels, is likely to be used up within just one generation, or in thirty years from now.

Scientists think climate change is likely to have catastrophic and irreversible effects, including rising sea levels, polar melting, droughts, floods and increasingly extreme weather, if temperatures rise more than 2C. They have calculated that this threshold is likely to be breached if global emissions top 1,200 billion tonnes, giving a “carbon budget” to stick to in order to avoid dangerous warming.

Action from BBC News:

Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action

Street protests demanding urgent action on climate change have attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers in more than 2,000 locations worldwide.

The People’s Climate March is campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York next week.

In Manhattan, organisers said some 310,000 people joined a march that was also attended by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Earlier, huge demonstrations took place in Australia and Europe.

The New York Times covers a sellout:

Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels

John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels.

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.

The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.

From RT, another outbreak:

500,000 people ill with mosquito-borne virus in Dominican Republic

The mosquito virus chikungunya has left almost 500,000 people ill, and 109 of them are newborn babies, according to an official in the Dominican Republic hit by the disease.

The newborns contracted the illness from their mothers, who were ill while giving birth, Carmen Adames, the Health Ministry’s coordinator dealing with the outbreak, told AP. None of the children have died, she added.

The symptoms of the disease take three to seven days to appear, and include high fever, severe headaches and joint pain that can render a person virtually immobile for months. Research in the Indian Ocean islands has demonstrated that patients can suffer joint pains for as long as two years, depending on their age.

There is no vaccine for the illness at the moment, and no specific cure as well; on the positive side, it has rarely been deadly.

From News Corp Australia, Down Under torture by Alexion, a U.S.-based drug maker:

Patient nearly dies after being denied access to life-saving drug

A DRUG company denied a critically ill woman access to a life-saving drug this month because it wanted to ramp up pressure on Health Minister Peter Dutton to subsidise its $500,000 per patient per year medicine.

Mr Dutton had to intervene to pay for the medicine Soliris to save the woman’s life. The furious Health Minister told News Corp: “I won’t tolerate patients being used as pawns”.

Melbourne woman Toula Lockley, 42, suffers from a rare disease called aHUS that sees tiny blood vessels blocked, cutting off the blood supply to major organs.

From the Associated Press, California still ablaze:

32 structures destroyed in California wildfire

Officials say nearly three-dozen structures have been destroyed in an expanding wildfire in Northern California.

Capt. Tom Piranio, a fire information officer, says 10 residences and 22 outbuildings have been destroyed in the King Fire, according to preliminary figures released Sunday. Assessment teams were going back in dangerous conditions to survey more damage.

Smoky conditions from the fire also forced the cancellation of the popular Ironman Triathlon event in nearby Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

The fast-moving blaze located about 60 miles east of Sacramento has grown to more than 128 square miles. It has kept 2,800 people from their homes and remains 10 percent contained. About 100 people have been allowed to return home.

Context from the Christian Science Monitor:

Burning money: Cost of fighting wildfires robs funds to prevent them

The cost of fighting wildfires and protecting life and property from harm has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000, eating into agency resources for forest management and fire preparedness – programs meant to prevent wildfires before they start

News from California this week made it seem as if half the drought-stricken state was ablaze with wind-whipped wildfires, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate, wrecking some vacation plans for Yosemite National Park, and torching hundreds of structures – including 143 homes in the small town of Weed.

All of that is happening and continues to happen as firefighters battle what fire officials say are 23 active wildfires around the state – 17 of those described as “uncontained large fires.”

So far this year, there have been slightly more wildfires (39,927) than there were in 2013 (38,208). But the total acreage burned so far in 2014 (3,002,842 acres) is significantly less than last year (4,006,080 acres).

From the Associated Press, California still dry:

Some California wells run dry amid drought

Hundreds of domestic wells in California’s drought-parched Central Valley farming region have run dry, leaving many residents to rely on donated bottles of drinking water to get by.

Girl Scouts have set up collection points while local charities are searching for money to install tanks next to homes. Officials truck in water for families in greatest need and put a large tank in front of the local firehouse for residents to fill up with water for bathing and flushing toilets.

About 290 families in East Porterville — a poor, largely Hispanic town of about 7,000 residents nestled against the Sierra Nevada foothills — have said their shallow wells are depleted. Officials say the rest of Tulare County has many more empty wells, but nobody has a precise count.

Other Central Valley counties also report pockets of homes with wells gone dry and no alternative water service.

Another water woe, this time from south of the border in Hermosillo, via the Associated Press:

Western Mexico state reports new mine spill

Authorities in northern Mexico have issued a new alert of a river spill from a copper mine operated by Grupo Mexico, the state director of civil protection said Sunday.

The agency is urging people to avoid using the water from after local municipalities complained of a toxic plume, said Carlos Arias, civil protection director for the border state of Sonora, where the spill occurred.

Arias said the tributaries affected drain into the Bacanuchi River. A flyover of the area shows an abnormal orange stain, he added. He said his department is taking measures to ensure people don’t come in contact with the water until it can be tested.

Bone dry in Old Blighty too with the Independent:

UK weather: Britain must be prepared for ‘worst droughts in modern times’

The UK must prepare for “the worst droughts in modern times” experts will warn this week at a major international conference to discuss the growing global water crisis.

As the population continues to grow and water is increasingly scarce, suppliers across Britain simply “cannot afford to fail”, according to Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s deputy director. “We need to have more resilience, we need to be able to deal with tougher situations, and we cannot afford to fail. The consequences of failure would be very substantial,” he said.

“In the past we have planned for our water resources to cope with the worst situation on record but records are only 100 years long,” he explained. “We may get a situation that is worse than that – with climate change that is perfectly possible.”

Star Africa News covers African water woes:

Water shortage hits Somali regions

People and animals in the Galgagud, Hiran and Mudug regions of central Somalia have been hit by an acute shortage of water after almost a year without proper rainfall.The Commissioner of Mahas district in Hiran region, Mumin Mohamed Halane told the African Press Agency on Sunday that hundreds of rural people have flocked to towns in search of drinking water for them and their animals.

He said wells, waterholes and pools which whole communities had depended on to water their animals have dried up.

According to him, the situation has worsened in areas where al-Shabaab militants forcibly took away water generators from villages in an apparent scorch earth tactic against government troops and African Union peacekeepers.

And from the Express Tribune, water woes in the Subcontinent:

Uneasy neighbours: Pakistani experts to discuss water dispute in India

A three-member Pakistani delegation, led by Indus Water Commissioner Mirza Asif Baig, left for India on Saturday amid hopes that the two arch-rivals would work out a solution to the decades-old water issues that have been bedeviling their bilateral relations.

“We are hopeful that India will show some flexibility on [Pakistan’s] reservations over the building of new dams in India,” Baig told reporters at Wagah border before crossing into India. During the five-day trip, the delegation will also visit four controversial sites on the Chenab River where New Delhi is planning to construct new dams. Reiterating that Pakistan’s objections over the design of Kishanganga dam were logical, Baig said that some serious doubts pertaining to the controversial project – particularly regarding the Neelum distributary point – and other dams on the Chenab River have already been allayed.

Experts, however, believe there is little or no hope of a breakthrough in talks as India is unwilling to entertain any Pakistani demands. Islamabad would have to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the dispute, they say. Baig said that his delegation would try their best to resolve all issues during their stay in India. But at the same time, he admitted that Islamabad would have no choice but to approach the ICJ if New Delhi did not entertain their ‘fair’ demands.

Last week, a 10-member delegation from India visited Pakistan to discuss the thorny water issues between the two nations. The talks, however, failed to make any headway as the Indian side refused to accept Pakistan’s demand for changing the design of Kishanganga dam.

And another kind of water woe from RT America:

Microbeads gumming up Lake Erie, your body

Program notes:

While cleaning patients’ teeth, a Phoenix dental hygienist discovered that Crest toothpaste contains tiny plastic “microbeads.” After a public backlash, Crest and many other companies are now removing the environmentally degrading ingredient from their products. RT’s Lindsay France takes a look at why consumers should be worried.

After the jump, China sends carbon soaring, Fukushima-damaged rice genes, other nuke-zone food heads to the market, a Japanese reactor complex shutdown contemplated, an Abe appointee pushes for restarts, underground reactors mulled, hot water testing, and a global reactor slowdown. . . Continue reading

Image of the day: Tragedy in Amazonia


From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Amazon Forest Fires

Amazon Forest Fires

Explanation and credits:

On an unusually cloud-free day at the height of the dry season, several fires were burning in Amazonia, giving rise to a broad smoke pall easily seen from the International Space Station (ISS). Parts of the ISS appear along the margins of the photo.

Against the backdrop of the dark green rainforest, several fires follow the major highway BR 163. Fires are set to clear patches of forest for agriculture, a process that reveals red-brown soils. A long line of newly cleared patches snakes east from BR 163 towards the remote valley of Rio Crepori.

Extensive deforested areas in Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso appear in tan across the top of the image. Fires show the advance of deforestation into the state of Pará, which is now second after Mato Grosso in terms of deforestation acreage.

Astronaut photograph ISS040-E-103496 was acquired on August 19, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 70 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 40 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs, and Michael Trenchard, Barrios Technology, at NASA-JSC.

EnviroWatch: Carnivore costs, fuels, nukes


First up, from Kyodo News, killing to continue:

Despite IWC resolution, Japan to start “research whaling”: Suga

Japan plans to start “research whaling” in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015 despite a resolution by the International Whaling Commission against the practice, the top government spokesman said Friday.

“We will make preparations so we can start new research whaling in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015,” based on a ruling by the International Court of Justice, Suga said at a regular press conference. “It’s extremely regrettable” that the resolution was adopted, he said.

Suga said Japan’s practices are “completely in line with” the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The Mainichi covers some of the hypocrisy:

Research whaling costs 4 bil. yen per year

Japan has insisted on resuming research whaling because, in the words of a senior Fisheries Agency official, it needs scientific data for resuming commercial whaling.

If Japan is forced to pull out of scientific whaling, the chances of resuming commercial whaling will evaporate, and even limited coastal hunts for small whales may be further scaled down.

According to an estimation made by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), there are 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean. As there are no other whale varieties with populations this big, Japan believes it is reasonable to turn to minke whales for scientific purposes.

But scientific whaling in the Antarctic and Northwest Pacific costs about 4 billion yen a year. Japan’s nonprofit Institute of Cetacean Research is in charge of the project. It has sold whale meat gleaned from scientific whaling to help run its operations, but the number of whales it has caught in the Antarctic has been far lower than its targets due to interference from anti-whaling groups. The Fisheries Agency says the government supplements the institute’s budget with an annual subsidy of about 1 billion yen because proceeds from whale meat are not enough to fund its operations.

From Salon, crying foul on corporate factory fowls:

White House: Factory farms are putting the public at risk — but we’re not going to do anything about it

  • New executive orders aimed at staving off “the next pandemic” both acknowledge and ignore livestock’s contribution

The Obama administration is finally making serious moves toward addressing antibiotic resistance, calling up an executive task force and presidential advisory committee dedicated to the problem. The executive orders signed Thursday, the AP reports, also call for “new regulations to make sure there is appropriate oversight of the use of antibiotics in hospitals” and “encourage better tracking of antibiotic use and the development of new antibiotics and tests.”

Some experts, according to the New York Times, were impressed just that the president decided to take on this issue. But even though we’ve known about the threat of antibiotic resistance for years, warnings have recently become especially charged. This past April, the World Health Organization released a report characterizing antibiotic-resistant superbugs as a world-wide threat to public health: the bacteria that cause “common, serious diseases” bloodstream infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea, it found, are developing resistance to the drugs needed to treat them, including those classified as “last resort.” In July, CDC Director Thomas Frieden called for immediate action to address the crisis, which he warned could lead to the “next pandemic.” Currently, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for at least 23,00 deaths in the U.S. each year. So you could also argue that the problem has become pretty much un-ignorable.

Considerably less awesome is the fact that the government will continue to ignore the abuse of antibiotics in livestock, which in the U.S. occurs at astounding rates. To give just one example of how widespread the problem is, a recent Reuters investigation revealed that the use of antibiotics at the nation’s largest poultry companies is reserved not for illness, but is instead “a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.”

From the Independent, another climate alarm:

Greenland’s dark snow may start global warming ‘feedback loop’

Dr Jason Box, a glaciology professor, has just finished his 23rd expedition to the Danish-owned island since 1994, a series of trips that included spending a year camped on the country’s inland ice. And this time, said Dr Box, he had never seen anything like it.

“Where I took the photos I was stunned by how large an area had such a dark appearance,” said Dr Box, who works for the Geological Survey of Greenland. “This rocket ride has just gotten off the launchpad. I expect the snow and ice to continue darkening – every indication is that the Arctic climate will continue warming and the number of wildfires will keep increasing.”

Unlike the black ice found on Britain’s streets, which is clear and takes on the colour of dark surfaces underneath it, Greenland’s ice and snow really is becoming darker. Dr Fox, who co-founded the Dark Snow Project to measure the impact of the blackening ice on its ability to reflect sunlight, has calculated that the ice sheet is 5.6 per cent darker this year than last.

From the Guardian, Global Corporate University strikes again:

University of California rejects student call to divest from fossil fuels

  • Straying from the precedent set by Stanford and Harvard, university’s board of regents will continue to invest in fossil fuels

The University of California voted on Friday to maintain its investments in fossil fuels, frustrating a student-led effort to divest its portfolio in oil, natural gas and coal.

UC is among the major college endowments have been reluctant to shake up their portfolios by pulling out of fossil fuels after Stanford University, one of the most prestigious and wealthiest in America, took that step in May.

Jagdeep Bachher, UC Regent’s Chief Investment Officer, said in a presentation that UC’s fossil fuel holdings amounts to $10bn of the $91bn in the college’s investment portfolio.

Mining the same vein, but across the Pacific, via Reuters:

China power plants exempt from ban on using low-quality coal: sources

China’s bid to limit the consumption of low-quality thermal coal in major cities to help curb pollution will not apply to power plants, traders and utility sources said, exempting a sector responsible for half the country’s coal use.

China said on Monday that from 2015 it would restrict the production, consumption and import of coal with high impurity levels in a bid to fight smog, much of which is caused by using coal for heating and electricity.

The government set three new quality thresholds, with the most stringent requirement banning the use of coal with more than 16 pct ash and 1 percent sulphur content in key population centers like Beijing and the Yangtze river delta region.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Tainted water problems still plague Fukushima, despite some positive signs

To improve the situation, Tepco has been taking steps to reduce the daily buildup of tainted water and to empty the filled trenches running beneath it.

One of those steps, the so-called groundwater bypass, finally began showing progress this week. The bypass is designed to reduce the amount of groundwater merging with tainted water from the plant by pumping it up beforehand and discharging it into the sea.

Other steps have proved unsuccessful, including a recent effort to build ice walls between two of the flooded turbine buildings and their trenches.

The mingling of the waters is a huge headache for Tepco: 400 tons of groundwater seep into the cracked reactor and turbine buildings every day. It then mixes with highly radioactive water in the flooded basements of reactors 1, 2 and 3, which were hit by the meltdowns, and increases the overall volume.

The Asahi Shimbun encounters obstacles:

TEPCO struggling to win approval of fishermen over water-discharge plan

Local fishermen are crying foul over Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s latest plan to discharge processed contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

TEPCO and the central government held the first explanatory briefing over the plan on Sept. 18, seeking to win the approval of fishermen operating in southern Fukushima Prefecture.

Their explanation was apparently unconvincing. “I can’t believe anything TEPCO says,” one of the attendees said after the meeting.

The Asahi Shimbun stays the course:

Outgoing NRA commissioner insists safety screenings for reactors were fair

An outgoing commissioner of the Nuclear Regulation Authority rejected criticism from the pro-nuclear community, saying the safety screenings for restarting the nation’s idled nuclear reactors were conducted in a fair manner.

“No part of the safety screening process was strict,” Kunihiko Shimazaki, whose two-year tenure as deputy chairman of the nuclear watchdog ended on Sept. 18, told reporters. “Everything was done in a sensible manner.”

Another commissioner, Kenzo Oshima, a former diplomat, left the post the same day.

Shimazaki, a seismology specialist, proved a thorn in the side of power utilities with his calls for reassessing the potential force inflicted by seismic waves and tsunami upon nuclear plants.

NHK WORLD disposes:

Govt. aims to begin waste transport in January

Japan’s environment minister says the government wants to start transporting radioactive waste produced by the Fukushima nuclear accident to interim storage facilities in Fukushima next January as scheduled.

Yoshio Mochiduki said on Friday that the government wants to proceed with preparations for the transport quickly, and it has no plan to change the target date.

The government started studying transportation routes and negotiations with landowners after the Fukushima government agreed earlier this month to build the facilities in the prefecture.

For our final item, NHK WORLD opposes:

Towns vote to block radioactive waste dumps

The assemblies of 2 towns north of Tokyo have voted unanimously to block or limit the construction of final disposal sites for radioactive waste in their towns.

Kami Town in Miyagi Prefecture and Shioya Town in Tochigi Prefecture have both been named by the central government as candidate sites for the facilities.

Sludge, ash, and other waste containing more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram are to be permanently stored at the sites.

The government plans to build such facilities in 5 prefectures near Fukushima, where the 2011 nuclear accident occurred.

EbolaWatch: Dire scenarios, complications, aid


Lots of ground to cover today, so we begin with a dire warning, via Bloomberg:

Ebola Worst-Case Scenario Has More Than 500,000 Cases

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa could spread to hundreds of thousands more people by the end of January, according to an estimate under development by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that puts one worst-case scenario at 550,000 or more infections.

The report, scheduled to be released next week, was described by two people familiar with its contents, who asked to remain anonymous because it isn’t yet public.

The projection, which vastly outstrips previous estimates, is under review by researchers and may change. It assumes no additional aid or intervention by governments and relief agencies, which are mobilizing to contain the Ebola outbreak before it spirals further out of control in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

And a complication, via Reuters:

Killings in Guinea show mistrust in Africa Ebola fight: WHO

The killing in Guinea of eight people trying to educate locals about Ebola showed how much rural populations in West Africa mistrust authorities after years of instability and conflict, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

Eight bodies were found after an attack on a team visiting remote southeastern Guinea, a government spokesman said on Thursday, showing the dangers faced by health workers fighting the deadly virus that is surrounded by suspicion and stigma.

Guinea was crippled by decades of corruption and political instability, and the other countries worst hit by the outbreak, Sierra Leone and Liberia, suffered civil wars in the 1990s. The legacy of these traumas now poses a risk to health workers battling Ebola, WHO expert Pierre Formenty said.

“This population in the forested area has really suffered a lot in the last 20 years. They are in a post-conflict behavior, there is lack of trust obviously between these populations and the different governments for the three countries,” Formenty told a news briefing in Geneva upon return from Liberia.

A further complication, via CCTV Africa:

Africa’s Food Security: FAO issues alert for Ebola affected countries

Program notes:

One in nine people — suffer from hunger. The latest UN report shows a decrease in world hunger, but fresh conflicts and the Ebola crisis is slowing down Africa’s efforts. Maria Galang has more.

Yet another, via Vice News:

Left to Die: Liberia’s Ebola Victims Have Nowhere to Turn as Treatment Centers Overflow

With the onset of Ebola, Liberia’s healthcare system is completely overstretched. People are dying of treatable diseases because they can’t get into hospitals, and pregnant women are giving birth in the street. Everything is collapsing.

An official familiar with the peace-building commission at the United Nations, which includes Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, said that one of the dangers of the current situation is that in fragile countries like Liberia, which is still recovering after 14 years of civil war, is that all problems in a country coming out of conflict are exacerbated: mistrust of state institutions, poverty, security issues, and distrust in government. “You’re looking at food prices going up and schools closed, wages not being paid, businesses wrecked,” said the official.

“Rightly so everyone is focused on the health crisis, but once the disease is halted, all these problems are going to need to be dealt with, and it’s things these countries were making progress with and all that progress is turned back,” he said.

From Bloomberg, yet another complication:

Ebola Is Katrina Moment for WHO’s Chan Hobbled by Budget

When Margaret Chan was elected to lead the World Health Organization, she said the agency’s priority was to improve the health of people in Africa.

Eight years later, the 67-year-old Chan is under attack for letting an Ebola outbreak there spiral beyond control, and this week her group found itself eclipsed as the leader of humanitarian efforts to control the epidemic.

The United Nations said it would create a separate Health Mission to coordinate care in West Africa, and the U.S. announced it would send 3,000 troops to build hospitals there. Those plans come after Chan delayed designating the outbreak as a global emergency until thousands were infected in three countries, and in the wake of complaints her agency had done too little to manage the response. Now, the WHO is in the awkward spot of being little more than a voice in the crowd, critics suggest, and Chan is seen by some as being partly to blame.

Punch Nigeria issues a plea:

UN seeks support for Liberia, others over Ebola

Mrs Jane Giogh, United Nations Children’s Education Fund representative in Nigeria, has appealed to countries with adequate human resources capacity to assist Liberia and Sierra-Leone to fight Ebola disease.

Giogh made the call in Port Harcourt on Friday in a chat with newsmen.

She said Liberia, Sierra-Leone and Guinea that were being ravaged by the disease had less human and financial capacities.

Star Africa News covers aid arrival:

First shipment of US military response to Ebola arrives in Liberia

A US military aircraft arrived in Liberia on Thursday with the first shipment of US military equipment and personnel for the anti-Ebola fight, in line with the promise made by President Barack Obama in his September 16 speech at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to a press statement received by APA Friday, the cargo included a heavy duty forklift, a drill set and generator and a team of 7 military personnel, including engineers and airfield specialists. The personnel are here to quickly assess the payload and stability of airport runways and the forklift will be used to offload incoming supplies.

The statement said an additional large military aircraft transporting more personnel and supplies, are expected to arrive in Monrovia in the coming days.

It adds that Major General Darryl Williams, in his capacity as Commander of US Army Africa and Operation United Assistance, has been in Liberia since Tuesday, meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other senior Liberian government officials to discuss the stepped up US response to the Ebola crisis.

CCTV Africa covers a second mission:

Ebola: AU to Send Second Medical Team to West Africa

Program notes:

The African Union is set to send a second Ebola response team to West Africa. This will be part of the organisation’s larger efforts to deploy experts over a six month period. However funding still remains a concern. Here’s CCTV’s Girum Chala with more details on that story.

From the Los Angeles Times, yet another complication and a profound moral issue:

A looming problem: How to ration Ebola vaccines and medicines

For doctors and public health officials trying to contain the Ebola epidemic, the dearth of drugs and vaccines is only part of the problem. Once these medicines become available, there certainly won’t be enough of them to go around.

So experts are devising ways to ration the precious products — and that forces them to ask some difficult questions:

Is the life of a physician worth more than a truck driver? Is a foreign aid worker more deserving of a vaccine than a nurse who lives in West Africa? Is it fair to turn thousands of at-risk people into clinical trial guinea pigs?

“It’s hard to know what’s the right thing to do,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University.

Reuters covers drastic measures:

Ebola lockdown brings Sierra Leone capital to a halt

Streets in the capital of Sierra Leone were deserted on Friday as the West African state began a contested, three-day lockdown in a bid to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged people to heed the emergency measures, and only vehicles driven by police and health workers took to the normally bustling roads of Freetown.

Radio stations played Ebola awareness jingles on repeat and encouraged residents to stay indoors.

Nearly 30,000 health workers, volunteers and teachers aim to visit every household in the country of six million people by Sunday to educate them about the disease and isolate the sick.

From Businessweek, context:

Sierra Leone Ebola Burial Teams Struggle as Bodies Decompose

Ebola burial teams in Sierra Leone can’t keep up with the rising number of dead, and some bodies are left to decompose at home for days as test results for the virus are slow to arrive.

“We are overwhelmed as we bury between 20 to 30 corpses a day,” Sas Kargbo, head coordinator for Sierra Leone’s burial teams, said in an interview in the capital, Freetown. “We want capacity to determine the cause of death in 24 hours so that those who did not die of Ebola will be buried with dignity.”

President Ernest Bai Koroma on Aug. 7 ordered that corpses can’t be buried without the Ministry of Health’s authorization. The measure was meant to stop the virus from spreading by preventing people from organizing funerals for relatives. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected patient, including a deceased person, according to the World Health Organization.

BBC News lends a hand:

Ebola aid donated by UK to Sierra Leone

The UK is donating hundreds of hospital beds to Sierra Leone as it fights to contain the Ebola virus.

Of the 700 beds to be donated, 200 are “in the pipeline”, with the remaining 500 to be handed over in coming months. British army engineers will also identify sites in Sierra Leone where treatment centres can be built.

Vickie Hawkins, executive director of the main Ebola aid agency in West Africa, Medecins San Frontiers, welcomed the “increased commitment of resources from the UK government”.

From the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, measures to protect a huge gathering with participants from around the globe:

Hajj & Ebola: Pilgrims from Ebola infected countries will not attend

Program notes:

The Hajj Board says Ghana will not be used as a transit point for would-be pilgrims from any of the Ebola infected countries that have been denied visas into Saudi Arabia. This comes on the heels of the refusal by Saudi Arabia to grant visas to prospective pilgrims from Ebola-affected countries for fear of transmitting the virus. GBC visits the Hajj Village in Accra to find out whether any of the citizens from these infected countries have made their way into Ghana to travel to Mecca.

From Reuters, a reprieve:

Senegal says no risk of Ebola spreading from imported case

Senegal’s health minister said on Friday there was no further risk of Ebola spreading in the West African country, following the end of a quarantine period for those who came into contact with an infected Guinean man.

“The risk of the Ebola virus spreading from the imported case is non-existent for our country,” Awa Marie Coll Seck told a news conference.

Another clearance, from Punch Nigeria:

Lagos clears last Ebola suspect

The Lagos State Government on Friday said the last suspected case of the Ebola Virus Disease in the state had been cleared having tested negative after surveillance.

Gov. Babatunde Fashola disclosed this while giving an update on the virus at the Secretariat Central Mosque, Alausa, where he observed Jumat Prayers.

The governor said the development meant that the state was now Ebola free and that it was safe enough for schools to resume on Sept. 22.

Punch Nigeria with another clearance of sorts:

Ebola: Rivers, Oyo schools to resume Oct 6

The Rivers and Oyo states governments have declared October 6, 2014 as the resumption date for all public and private primary and secondary schools.

The State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who disclosed this on Friday while speaking with journalists in Port Harcourt, the capital city, said schools in Rivers would not resume on September 22, 2014 as earlier announced by the Federal Government as a result of the ongoing surveillance of some Ebola contacts.

He said, “We currently have 253 contacts under surveillance and we hope that by weekend, the number would have come down significantly. We expect that quite a number of those under surveillance would have been discharged in batches.

For our final item, the Washington Post offers qualified reassurance for the other side of the Atlantic:

Ebola outbreak in the U.S.? Probably not happening.

If the deadliest outbreak in history continues at its current pace, the probability of an exportation of Ebola to the United States by the end of September is between 3 and 15 percent, according to Alessandro Vespignani, a Northeastern University professor whose team has been continuously updating its model.

That range, Vespignani said, reflects the the best- and worst-case scenarios.

“These are relatively small probabilities,” Vespignani said in an interview this week. “If we have very good screening procedures, then the probability could be less. If we consider the worst-case scenario, we have basically a 15 percent probability.”

EnviroWatch: Illness, fires, toxins, Fukushima


First, via Al Jazeera America, a biological bubble enlarging:

World population growing, not slowing

  • New methodology reverses earlier predictions, projects Africa population will quadruple this century

The possibility that the world’s population will climb to 11 billion by the end of the century is gaining traction now that demographers are using probability methods for their projections.

A paper published online on Thursday in the journal Science details new methodology that shows that most of the world’s anticipated growth is in Africa, where population is projected to quadruple from about 1 billion today to 4 billion by 2100.

“For the last 20 years, prevailing opinion was that world population would go up to 9 billion and level off in the middle of the century and maybe decline,” said Adrian Raftery, one of the paper’s lead authors and a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington. “Population is going to keep growing. We can say that with confidence.”

From the London Daily Mail, another outbreak closer to home:

Cases of rare and severe infant respiratory illness enterovirus 68 confirmed in 14 states as it spreads quickly among children across America

  • As of Wednesday both Minnesota and New Jersey have confirmed cases of the severe virus enterovirus 68
  • Officials say Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania together have 130 lab-confirmed cases
  • There are also suspected cases in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Utah
  • A child in Minnesota told Children’s chief nursing officer Roxanne Fernandes it felt like he had ‘an elephant sitting on his chest’
  • The virus has caused no deaths but has put some children in intensive care and on life support

And from Science, malpractice certain to feed the ISIS media mill:

Sixteen children in Syria die in measles immunization campaign

Sixteen children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

According to Lindmeier, the children died almost immediately on Tuesday after receiving the shot, part of a measles immunization campaign under way in Idlib and Deir al Zour, two governorates of Syria.

Reuters covers a burning issue:

New evacuations ordered as California wildfire doubles in size

More residents of Northern California mountain communities were told to leave their homes on Thursday after an out-of-control wildfire doubled in size overnight, scorching more than 100 square miles of drought-parched timber and brush.

Nearly 3,700 firefighters struggled to stop the forward march of the King Fire, the largest and most dangerous of 11 major wildfires raging across California, but had managed to cut containment lines around just 5 percent of the flames as of Thursday morning, officials said.

The blaze raced across some 43,000 acres of forest land late on Wednesday and early on Thursday and has now burned more than 70,000 acres of state land in the El Dorado National Forest northeast of Sacramento.

The Associated Press covers a culprit:

Man arrested in fast-growing California wildfire

A man with a lengthy criminal history has been charged with deliberately starting a Northern California wildfire that has shown explosive growth and driven nearly 2,800 people from their homes, authorities said Thursday.

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was arrested late Wednesday in Placerville and booked into El Dorado County Jail, where he was being held on $10 million bail.

Huntsman faces a forest-land arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because the blaze east of Sacramento put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They all escaped unharmed.

From Environmental Health News, another menace:

Kids exposed in the womb to plasticizers more likely to have asthma

New York City children exposed in the womb to moderate levels of two plasticizers had a 72 to 78 percent higher chance of developing asthma, according to a new study published today.

The study is the first to link childhood asthma, which has been increasing in recent decades, to prenatal exposure to phthalates.

“These results suggest that phthalates may be one of the factors associated with that increase,” said Robin Whyatt, a Columbia University environmental health scientist who led the study. She added, however, that more studies are needed to understand how important a risk factor these chemicals may be.

Phthalates, used in the manufacture of vinyl and some cosmetics, have been connected to a number of health effects in lab animal and human studies, including airway inflammation, altered male genitalia, attention and learning problems and premature births.

Environmental Health News again, with another menace:

Mass murder by botulism: Surge in Great Lakes bird deaths driven by invaders

The nonnative creatures have been driving a deadly surge in avian botulism in the Great Lakes over the past 15 years, killing an estimated 80,000 birds, including loons, ducks, gulls, cormorants and endangered piping plovers. Now scientists are searching for what has triggered this change in intensity of the disease: If they can unravel where and why the lethal toxin is building up in food webs, they can predict which shorelines are death traps for birds.

The botulism bacterium “is the most toxic natural substance on Earth. Just one gram could kill off like 2 million people,” said Stephen Riley, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “And for these birds it’s essentially just widespread food poisoning.”

Outbreaks were first documented in the Great Lakes in the 1960s, but they ebbed and flowed until 1999, when they intensified on Lakes Erie, Huron, Ontario and Michigan.

Common Dreams covers another controversy:

USDA’s Greenlighting of ‘Agent Orange’ Crops Sparks Condemnation

  • Following widespread outcry, Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybeans get approval.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision this week to approve two new genetically engineered crops is being denounced by watchdog groups as a false solution to herbicide-resistant weeds and a move that threatens human and environment safety alike.

The crops are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and soybeans, engineered to be resistant to its Duo herbicide, which contains 2,4-D, a component of the notorious Agent Orange. 2,4-D has been linked to Parkinson’s, birth defects, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption. Dow states that the new system will address the problem of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup.

Food and environmental safety groups, however, say that it speaks to the failure of the genetically engineered crops strategy that fosters herbicide expansion—profitable for the chemical companies—and ignores the paradigm shifted needed in the industrial agriculture system.

From Al Jazeera America, on the rise:

Canary in a coal mine: Extreme weather, rising seas plague atoll nation

  • Marshall Islands president issues a call to action ahead of international climate summit next week hosted by the UN

As global leaders gear up to meet at next week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York, the president of a small Pacific island nation vulnerable to rising seas caused by global warming said the future of his people depends on creating a carbon-free world by 2050.

“Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived,” Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak said in a video address to his fellow heads of state. “Our atoll nation stands at the front line in the battle against climate change.”

In the video, Loeak stands in front of a sea wall he built to protect his home and family from rising seas which have already engulfed several of the nation’s atolls — making them disappear forever.

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a decontamination claim, skeptical fishermen, a radioactive waste disposal plan, uncovering a hidden agenda, a major loss of seismic expertise, and rising chances for yet more reactors worldwide. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Dengue, coal, water, whales


And more. . .

First up, seeking profit in a spreading ailment via Nikkei Asian Review:

Japanese drugmakers get serious about tackling dengue

Pharmaceutical companies have largely been unwilling to develop vaccines and treatment for dengue fever, citing small demand due to the disease primarily occurring in emerging nations. But as the disease spreads, with the current outbreak in Japan already topping 100 cases, major drugmakers are now rushing to tackle the threat.

“I suddenly felt a chill and had a fever of nearly 40 degrees. It was an unimaginable experience,” said a Japanese trading house official based in Jakarta who contracted dengue fever for the first time earlier this year.

The disease is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus. It is estimated that more than 50 million people develop the disease every year worldwide, primarily in tropical areas.  Sufferers typically experience headaches and joint pain, with fever lasting a week or so. In the most severe cases, patients die due to plasma leakage.

And the accompanying graphic, showing the global occurrence of the disease:

BLOG Dengue

Coughing up cash with The Contributor:

Two Senators Who’ve Received Nearly $2M from Dirty Energy Complain About the Impact of EPA Regulations on Regular Folks

Two Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be releasing a white paper later this week that will allegedly make the case that “regulations” and legislation that “raises energy costs” are damaging America’s underclass.

Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Tim Scott (South Carolina) have teamed up with the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research to once again push the bogus theory that government regulations and environmental safeguards are costing American consumers too much money and destroying jobs. The paper will officially be released at a Manhattan Institute event on September 18.

According to The Hill, a representative from Murkowski’s office said that the Senators will be speaking about “the economic, political, and social consequences of allowing energy insecurity to rise in America.”

From the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal, coughing up their lungs:

Severe black lung returns to 1970s levels

Coal miners in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are contracting serious cases of black lung disease at rates not seen since the early 1970s — just after preventive regulations were enacted, according to a study published Monday.

Only 15 years ago, progressive massive fibrosis — an advanced form of black lung for which there is no cure — was virtually eradicated, health researchers say. But now, the prevalence of the disease in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is at levels not seen in 40 years. .

“Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease,” wrote researchers for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the latest issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

BBC News calls foul on David Cameron’s hypocrisy, rivaled on by Barack Obama’s promise the The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

Red card on environment for ‘greenest government ever’

The government is failing to reduce air pollution, protect biodiversity and prevent flooding, a cross-party body of MPs has said.

The Environmental Audit Committee dished out a “red card” on these three concerns after examining efforts made since 2010. The MPs said on a further seven green issues ministers deserved a “yellow card” denoting unsatisfactory progress.

The government said it strongly disagreed with the findings.

From the Guardian, playing for time:

Obama delays key power plant rule of signature climate change plan

  • A week before major UN talks on climate change, EPA extends comment period for rule to cut carbon pollution from plants

Barack Obama applied the brakes to the most critical component of his climate change plan on Tuesday, slowing the process of setting new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants, and casting a shadow over a landmark United Nations’ summit on global warming.

The proposed power plant rules were meant to be the signature environmental accomplishment of Obama’s second term.

The threat of a delay in their implementation comes just one week before a heavily anticipated UN summit where officials had been looking to Obama to show leadership on climate change.

From the Guardian, no longer so pumped-up:

California dumps ‘pump-as-you-please’ groundwater rules amid drought

  • Governor Jerry Brown signs bill into law to overhaul policy in state stricken by drought, sinking land and drying basins

California will no longer be the only western state with a “pump-as-you-please” approach to groundwater.

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Tuesday overhauling the state’s management of its groundwater supply, bringing it in line with other states that have long regulated their wells.

Groundwater makes up nearly 60% of the state’s water use during dry years but is not monitored and managed the same way as water from reservoirs and rivers.

Supporters of the legislation say the worst drought in a generation inspired them to rethink California’s pump-as-you-please approach, which has led to sinking land and billions of dollars in damage to aquifers, roads and canals.

From the Los Angeles Times, and we resist the obvious puns:

Wildfire engulfs Northern California logging town as residents flee

Officials plan to send a damage assessment team to the Northern California community of Weed on Tuesday, where a wildfire destroyed or severely damaged more than 100 buildings, including a church and the town sawmill.

More than 1,500 residents were evacuated to the Siskiyou County fairgrounds as the Boles fire, last reported at 350 acres, tore through the town.

The fire broke out about 1:30 p.m. Monday near the town, which is about 50 miles south of the California-Oregon border. Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the flames were fueled by 40 mph winds and dry conditions.

The San Francisco Chronicle chronicles an immigrant:

Australian mosquito appears in California

Officials say an Australian mosquito has made what is believed to be its first U.S. appearance in the Los Angeles area.

Los Angeles County vector control officials said in a statement Tuesday that the mosquito that goes by the nickname Aussie Mozzie has been found in Monterey Park and nearby Montebello.

The mosquito can transmit the nonfatal Barmah Forest and Ross River viruses to humans, though neither has ever been reported in the county. It also can give heartworm to dogs.

From the Guardian, maybe there’s cetacean hope after all?:

IWC ‘has majority’ to curb Japanese whale culls

New Zealand proposing that world’s whale conservation body also add strict conditions to any future scientific whaling permits

A narrow majority of delegates at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) summit support moves to extend a ban on Japan’s scientific whaling plans until at least 2016 in a vote due on Wednesday.

Despite fierce opposition from Japan, New Zealand is proposing that the IWC endorse a ruling by the international court of justice (ICJ) and add strict conditions to any future permits it issues for scientific whaling.

Whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, supported by a clutch of African and Caribbean states, claim that lethal research can be the most effective form of marine science.

But until then, via JapanToday:

Season’s first dolphins slaughtered at Taiji

The first dolphins of the season were slaughtered on Tuesday in the small town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, campaigners said, commencing an annual cull repeatedly condemned by animal rights groups.

Activists from the environmentalist group Sea Shepherd have been monitoring a bay in Taiji since the six-month dolphin hunting season began earlier this month.

“First pod of 2014-2015 being driven into cove now,” the activists from Sea Shepherd, who call themselves “Cove Guardians”, tweeted at 10:33 a.m.

From the Guardian, water woes Down Under:

Sydney’s waters could be tropical in decades, here’s the bad news…

  • Our research points to a widespread ‘tropicalisation’ of temperate coastlines such as Sydney within the next few decades. This may sound pleasant, but it might not be

Climate models suggest that ocean temperatures off Sydney are just decades away from becoming “tropical”. A “business as usual” scenario of increasing CO2 emissions suggests winter sea surface temperatures will consistently exceed 18C between 2020 and 2030. And summer sea surface temperatures will consistently exceed 25C between 2040 and 2060.

Eastern Australian waters represent a climate change hotspot, with warming rates occurring twice as fast as the global average. A key reason for this is a strengthening of the East Australian current, which pushes warm tropical water southwards.

Other oceanic hotspots around the world include southern Japan, south-east US, south-east Africa and eastern South America. All these regions have in common the influence of strong ocean currents running close to the shore bringing warm tropical water.

With that, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with this from ENENews:

Ocean hits record high for radioactive Strontium at all 6 locations near Fukushima reactors — Levels up to 20 times higher than reported last week — Officials: Contamination from highly radioactive ‘debris’ is seeping into ground and flowing out to sea

This newly published data shows record levels of Strontium-90 have been detected at all 6 seawater monitoring locations in front of the destroyed reactors. At 3 of 6 locations levels are around triple the previous record set last year.

Yet a report released by TEPCO days later on Sept. 12, 2014 claims: “Results indicate efforts to protect water are succeeding… inside the port area, concentrations of radioactivity have been steadily decreasing… Strontium… nearest the reactors… show levels of 70-100 Bq/L … Strontium 90 has been reduced to approximately a third of earlier levels [and] are projected to further reduce… Strontium 90 outflows to one-fortieth of the current estimated amount of outflow.”

According to a TEPCO document from last month: “Groundwater around reactor buildings (Unit 1 to 4) is confirmed to contain radioactive materials which have mixed with rainwater having been contacted with contaminated debris left on the ground surface due to the accident… contaminated water in the buildings theoretically does not mix with the groundwater flowing around the buildings.”

And to close, this from NHK WORLD:

Panel starts discussion on nuclear fuel recycling

An expert panel of Japan’s economy and industry ministry is studying whether the government should provide financial support for nuclear fuel recycling.

The panel began their discussions on Tuesday. Its members say they can’t decide what kind of role nuclear power should play in the nation’s energy policy until they have a clear idea about how to operate costly fuel recycling.

Some say power companies are shouldering the cost of fuel recycling at present, but the government needs to be involved because the electricity market is undergoing liberalization. Others express doubt about government involvement, saying the public will have to pay for the cost.

EnviroWatch: Heat, water woes, power hunger


We open with a scorcher from The Hill:

NASA: August 2014 hottest on record

The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.

While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius, NASA said in an email to The Hill.

All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.

One consequence of heat, via the Guardian:

Where the wildfires are: if there’s smoke, there are costly health problems

  • Scientists fear that climate change could lead to more wildfires – and to lingering, expensive, public health crises as smoke spreads thousands of miles away from the actual fire sites

There are plenty of immediate concerns in a fire: protecting homes and businesses, saving lives, limiting the number of acres consumed and so on. But increasingly, researchers and policymakers are finding that the lingering health and safety impacts of wildfires may be far more worrisome – and more widespread.

Smoke, after all, can travel any way the wind takes it, exacerbating an array of health problems in cities hundreds of miles from the original fire. In 2002, for example, a fire in Canada caused a 30-fold increase in fine particulate matter in the air in Baltimore, 1,000 miles away.

According to Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist with the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that level of air pollution can contribute to a variety of respiratory and cardiac issues and has even been correlated with premature death and low birth weights. In a 2011 study, conducted in partnership with researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, Knowlton found that more than 760,000 encounters with the health system between 2000 and 2009 could be attributed to exposure to wildfire smoke.

These health problems carried a steep price tag: $740,000 in direct healthcare costs and more than $14bn in overall health costs once the value of lives lost prematurely was factored in. The 2003 wildfire season in southern California alone resulted in 69 premature deaths, 778 hospitalizations, 1,431 emergency room visits, and 47,605 outpatient visits, mostly for respiratory and cardiovascular health problems aggravated by smoke exposure.

From the Associated Press, control of the commons contested:

EPA administrator pushes for water rules

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she’s not backing down on her agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.

The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.

McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it’s time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act’s provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.

From the Guardian, a phenomenon resurgent:

California water witches see big business as the drought drags on

  • Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

From the Guardian, a mixed fracking report card:

Drinking water contaminated by shale gas boom in Texas and Pennsylvania

  • Faulty natural gas well casings blamed in study for methane leakage in Barnett Shale and the Marcellus formation

The natural gas boom resulting from fracking has contaminated drinking water in Texas and Pennsylvania, a new study said on Monday.

However, the researchers said the gas leaks were due to defective gas well production – and were not a direct result of horizontal drilling, or fracking.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences validated some of the concerns raised by homeowners in the Barnett Shale of Texas and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania about natural gas leaking into their water supply.

On a parallel note with BBC News:

Water stress may curtail fracking, says WRI

Water shortages could hinder fracking for shale oil and gas in many parts of the world, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has said.

In the first report of its kind, the WRI found that 38% of the world’s shale resources were in arid areas or in those with severe water stress.

Accessing fresh water was likely to present “serious challenges”, it said.

Until now, concerns about fracking and water have focused on contamination of local supplies.

Killing with our cultural excreta, via the Guardian:

Plastic rubbish from land, not ships, killing Australian sea life, say scientists

  • Research shows three-quarters of rubbish was plastic and debris concentrated near cities

Mounds of plastic rubbish along Australia’s coastline are growing and killing wildlife which is ingesting or becoming ensnared in it, researchers say.

Scientists visited more than 170 sites along the coast and found about three-quarters of the rubbish was plastic from the land, not vessels on the ocean, and debris was concentrated near cities.

The density of plastic ranged from a few thousand pieces per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces, a CSIRO scientist, Denise Hardesty, said.

More Down Under water woes with the Guardian:

Great Barrier Reef plan ‘not enough to ward off UN in-danger listing’

  • Federal and Queensland government proposal to improve water quality ‘little more than business as usual’, say environmentalists

A plan to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s water quality and conserve species such as turtles may not be enough to stave off a United Nations “in danger” listing for the ecosystem, environmentalists have warned.

The draft Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, a joint strategy by the federal and Queensland governments, has been released in an attempt to satisfy Unesco, which has warned it may place the reef on its list of threatened sites in 2015.

Port developers, the agriculture industry and environment groups helped draft the plan.

The plan stipulates a 50% reduction in nitrogen and a 60% drop in pesticides flowing on to the reef by 2018. There is also a protection plan for dugongs and turtles and a commitment to prioritise “functional ecosystems critical to reef health”.

On the contentious issue of dredging the seabed and dumping it within the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, there is a commitment to prohibit dredging within the world heritage area for new ports for the next 10 years as well as a “code of practice” for dredging.

Water woes on the subcontinent with The Diplomat:

Cleaning Up the Ganges

  • Narendra Modi will need more than just rhetoric to clean up India’s most important river.

Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanup plan for the Ganges river has come in for criticism from various quarters. The sharpest censure came recently from India’s Supreme Court, which observed that the government’s action plan may not result in a clean Ganges “even after 200 years.”

The apex court has ordered the government to provide a cleanup plan with stages and a schedule.

Promises to clean the Ganges figured in Modi’s election speeches and in his party’s election manifesto. Soon after coming to power in May, he signaled that the Ganges would be a priority by creating a Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganges Rejuvenation. A flurry of meetings followed. In July, the government announced “Namami Ganga,” (in Sanskrit it means “obeisance to the Ganges”), an Integrated Ganges Development Project, and allocated around $334 million for it. It promised a clean Ganges in three years.

However, little is known about the Ganges project or what it entails.

A anthropogenic die-off after an exceptionally long run, via the Guardian:

Wild Chinese sturgeon on brink of extinction in polluted Yangtze

  • The fish has survived for 140m years but failed to reproduce last year according to Chinese researchers

The wild Chinese sturgeon is at risk of extinction after none of the rare fish were detected reproducing naturally in the polluted and crowded Yangtze river last year.

One of the world’s oldest living species, the wild Chinese sturgeon is thought to have existed for more than 140m years but has seen its numbers crash as China’s economic boom has brought pollution, dams and boat traffic along the world’s third-longest river.

For the first time since researchers began keeping records 32 years ago, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon in 2013, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

The Guardian, with another riverine threat:

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

  • Scientists say deforestation and climate change responsible for forests not producing vapour clouds that bring rain to Brazil, reports Climate News Network

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” – the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

From New Europe, an attack on anthropocentric arrogance:

EU leads an international demarche against whaling by Iceland

  • Countries asked Iceland to respect the IWC’s global moratorium and end its commercial whaling

The EU, its 28 Member States and the governments of the United States, Australia, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Mexico and Monaco, today declared their opposition to the fact that the Icelandic government still permits commercial whaling, in particular the hunting of fin whales and the subsequent trading of fin whale products.

The EU’s Ambassador to Iceland, Matthias Brinkmann, along with the diplomatic representatives of the United States, France, Germany and the UK delivered a demarche to this effect to the Icelandic government this morning. The Ambassador also pointed out that public opinion in the countries that are Iceland’s main trading partners is very much against the practise of whaling.  This is evidenced by the public pressure put on companies around the world to boycott Icelandic goods, not to mention the pressure that voters and various organisations put on their politicians, encouraging them to send Iceland an increasingly stronger message.

Reuters documents another case of biological and ultimately suicidal form of corporate arrogance:

Farmaceuticals

  • Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks
  • Pervasive use fuels concerns about impact on human health, emergence of resistant superbugs

Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health.

Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.

In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.

The internal documents contain details on how five major companies  – Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods – medicate some of their flocks.

The documented evidence of routine use of antibiotics for long durations was “astonishing,” said Donald Kennedy, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

For our final item and from MintPress News, consumptive media:

Report: “Critical Action” Needed To Fight Enormous Energy Waste At Data Centers

Data centers consume colossal amounts of energy and water, with most waste — largely stemming from operating inefficiencies — actually coming from the country’s millions of small data centers.

Data centers are wasting electricity so excessively that only “critical action” can prevent the pollution and rate hikes that some U.S. regions could eventually suffer as a result of power plant construction intended to ensure that the ravenous facilities are well-fed, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Anthesis warns.

The report, “Scaling Up Energy Efficiency Across the Data Center Industry: Evaluating Key Drivers and Barriers” [PDF], was issued on Aug. 26. Data centers, which number in the millions, are collections of servers (in-house or otherwise) which store and process data for businesses as ordinary as real estate firms or as large as social media platforms like Facebook.

The NRDC report describes the inefficient approach to server management common in practically all U.S. businesses, and recommends a variety of actions to save energy by tackling those inefficiencies.